Natalia Sep18

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Natalia

(This blog entry is going to be one of those cathartic exercises, and it’s a time like this for which I’m really grateful to be able to have this outlet.)

I think I just survived the most jarring moment of my life thus far. Today I was driving a friend to an appointment at a hospital. As she was readying herself to exit the car, I noticed a woman being escorted out of the building by two hospital security guards.

A few minutes later, I departed the hospital drop off zone and prepared to turn the corner onto a busy street. A few yards from the corner was the same woman, this time alone, and she was attempting to “j-walk” across the busy city road. I could tell immediately that she was not a well person: she crossed the road without attention, her shoulders were shrugged, she had a listless gaze.

At that moment, I realized that there was no reason for this woman to be crossing the road. At the other side was just a chain-link fence guarding a cliff with the train tracks below. I had an awful feeling about what was about to occur. I started to freak-out. I immediately “u-turned” my car, threw on my flashers and got out. By this point, the woman, who I could see now was in her twenties, proceeded to grab the fence with her hands and look downward to the tracks. She then started raising a leg to mount the four-foot tall barrier. I immediately ran to her and yelled for her to stop. I begged her to please get away form the fence and that she didn’t have to do that. She just turned to me and started weeping. I put my arm around her shoulders and walked away with her.

I then escorted this woman into my car. I suppose since we were in the middle of the road, I felt this was a safest place for her. I was so shocked by what just happened. It was surreal- as if I were watching a movie. I asked the girl if she wanted to go back to the hospital. She replied, “They just discharged me.” I asked her name. “My name is Natalia” (this is not her real name.)

As I “u-turned” again, thinking I was going to just send her back to the hospital. I noticed the two same security guards who escorted Natalia out, were standing on the sidewalk staring at me. I pulled up, rolled down my window and asked them to explain to me why they were just standing there? They said the doctor ordered this patient discharged. Discharged?? Clearly she is a risk to herself. The said they were following orders. I was so angry with their response. By chance, a pedestrian who witnessed the entire suicide attempt was walking past the security guards when he heard their responses. I could tell he was disgusted with their reply. Well, seeing as the hospital just let her go, I didn’t feel comfortable bringing her back there. The poor woman was weeping and she just tried to kill herself. So I did what any daughter of European parents would do- invite her home for some food.

Just to be clear, Natalia was clearly mentally ill. Her conversation was erratic, she would zone out and draw a blank look, she seemed lost.  At one point while we were driving, I started to worry about whether inviting her over was a good idea. I had two of my kids napping inside the house, and a babysitter keeping watch. However, after what had just occurred, I was running on auto-pilot.

When we arrived home, I made the wise decision to seat Natalia on our front Terrace. I  told her I would return with some water and food. As soon as I entered my front door I started sobbing uncontrollably. What happened to this woman? What would compel a person to take their own life? Why did I happen to be at the right place, at the right time to help her off the fence? How could I help her? I pulled it together and served her.

In between sobs, she shared with me details of her life. She claimed her parents physically and sexually abused her. She even mentioned that she was forced to have an abortion a few years ago. It was all so devastatingly raw. I did all I could do- I hugged her and told her that she was safe here, and that I would pray for her all the days of my life. We laughed, shared a few jokes, talked about life. As ridiculous as this may sound, I made her pinky-swear (old childhood habit) that she would never attempt to take her own life again- no matter how bad things were.

At this point, I knew that there was nothing else I could do. Natalia needed help, professional help. Should I take her back to the hospital? How could I as they were the ones who just discharged her. So I called the hospital, explained the situation,  and they told me to come to emergency. I explained to Natalia that it may be best to go back to the hospital, and that I would accompany and support her all they way through.

When we arrived at emergency, she was triaged and the two of us were escorted into “Crisis Care”. Behind the bulletproof glass in this special unit, I recognized a security officer as one of the pair who initially escorted Natalia out, and then watched her from across the street. I rather forcefully demanded to know what was going to happen to Natalia. “Are you family?”. “No, I’m just the girl who pulled her off a fence”. “Well then you have to leave immediately.”

I was then escorted outside by the head nurse who tried her best to explain the situation to me, without giving me confidential info. Essentially, they knew Natalia very well, and this behavior isn’t new. She was prone to violent behavior and has been in “The System”. I wasn’t sure if this information was supposed to make me feel better or worse. If these people knew that she has repeatedly tried to take her life, bluffing or not, why was she discharged? Is this protocol? Last I checked, suicide isn’t one of those times where you call one’s bluff.

There was really nothing left to do, but to go home and make sense of what just happened. I thanked the nurse and walked away. I had so many questions. Is this how “The System” works? Is this how the mentally ill are handled? Was Natalia ill because of the abuse she may have suffered? Was she experiencing Post-Abortion Syndrome? Frankly, I don’t care if Natalia was bluffing or not- if someone is threatening to kill themselves, they are ill. Period. She should not have been discharged. I understand there are laws and limits on how long the hospital can keep someone against their will, but where is the compassion for the patient in these regulations? How many other Natalias are out there? Is there really no place for “these people” to live? Natalia is a human being, a wounded person who needs a lot of care and support- is there no place for her to go?

I’m not sure what will happen to Natalia. I will probably never see her again. However, I will never, ever forget what happened today, even after I recover from the shock.

Please keep her in your prayers.